Relief can strike after an arthritis diagnosis, but low feelings can too. Clinical psychologist Dr Caroline Stokes offers her advice for this tricky period
So you’ve been given a diagnosis of arthritis and now you’re feeling, well, miserable. Don’t worry my friend, it’s completely normal. Dr Caroline Stokes is a clinical psychologist at London’s Maudsley hospital, currently helping patients deal with chronic conditions and pain. She offers some ways to get your mojo back after your diagnosis.
Dr Stokes writes:
Overall, my advice to someone receiving a diagnosis of arthritis would be to try to think calmly and logically about it. Sometimes when we are faced with a challenging life event, it can be very easy for our thoughts about that event to get the better of us. These thoughts can then cause us to feel very anxious, stressed or even rather depressed about what the future might hold. These are some tips to combat this and keep those unhelpful thoughts in check
1. Remember that you are not your diagnosis
There is more to you as a person than just your arthritis. It might help to make a list of all the other qualities/roles in your life which are important to you and give you a sense of self-worth. For example, you might be a good friend, a caring son or daughter, good at tennis, musical, or you might make people laugh. Try to remember that these things continue even with a diagnosis of arthritis. Don’t let your diagnosis stop you from continuing to derive a sense of pleasure or self-worth from these other areas of your life.
2. Stay connected
Make sure you continue to spend time with your friends, even if you don’t feel like it. When we are feeling low or fed up, socialising can be the last thing we feel like doing. However, regularly socialising and having fun with friends can significantly lift your mood. I see this time and time again in patients in my clinic.
3. Remember it’s not your fault
Don’t blame yourself – you didn’t cause your arthritis. Although research is continuing, the bottom line is we still don’t really know why one young person might develop arthritis and another person doesn’t. It’s probably just bad luck, the way some people develop asthma, or diabetes.
4. Deal with facts, and focus on today
When thinking about your diagnosis of arthritis, try to focus on the facts and concentrate on what your arthritis means for your life now, rather than dwelling on future uncertainties. It can be tempting to think ahead but it is easy to then fall into the trap of worrying about a worst-case scenario, which may not happen. This is a common negative thinking trap that can make us feel very anxious indeed, when the reality is that no-one can predict for certain how arthritis will progress for an individual person.
5. Tell someone how you feel
My final piece of advice is perhaps the most important. If things start to get on top of you, and you start to feel low in mood – depressed even- and hopeless about the future, speak to someone and get help. Do not struggle with this on your own. Confide in a parent, a trusted friend, or your GP. Make sure someone takes you seriously and helps you to manage your feelings.